In DepthNeuroscience

Pinpoint brain stimulation probes perception

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Science  19 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6450, pp. 209
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6450.209

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Summary

How many neurons does it take to spark a memory, a sensation, or a movement? Neuroscientists have struggled to answer this question with relatively crude stimulation methods that don't allow them to fire up individually selected brain cells. Two teams, however, have recently adapted optogenetics—a technology for stimulating neurons with light—to precisely awaken particular cells in the visual cortex of a mouse. They showed that zapping just a few neurons could trigger the same brain activity as showing the animals a visual pattern and could make them react as if they had seen that pattern. That observation might help explain why disordered states—hallucinations, unwanted thoughts, and harmful actions—arise so readily in the brain. And single-neuron optogenetics may someday point researchers toward highly targeted ways of stamping out these states and treating symptoms of brain diseases.

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